Pharmacist struck off for supplying counterfeit drugs

A NSW pharmacy owner and wholesaler has had his registration cancelled after purchasing and supplying counterfeit drugs that left sick children at risk

Mr Mina Attia, the owner of Shopsmart Wholesale pharmacies across Sydney, was brought before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) following revelations he had introduced counterfeit Viagra into the Sydney pharmaceutical market.

The discovery was made in June 2010 by a pharmacist working at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, who was crushing Viagra tablets for paediatric patients to use in the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

She noticed that the consistency of the tablets was uncharacteristically gritty and immediately notified the manufacturer, Pfizer Australia.

In its subsequent investigations, the TGA traced the supply of the tablets to its original source: a major licensed wholesaler had purchased the drugs from another licensed wholesaler called Hillmear Trading Pty Ltd, which in turn had purchased the tablets from a Mr Sajay Rai.

At the time of the distribution of the counterfeit Viagra, pharmacist Mr Attia was the sole director of Hillmear.

The tribunal found that Mr Rai was not licensed to supply restricted substances and that Mr Attia, in breach of his pharmaceutical wholesaler’s licence, had failed to ensure the purchased product was genuine by contacting Pfizer. 

Mr Attia admitted this point at the tribunal hearing.

He told investigators that he had purchased the units of Viagra from Mr Rai at $54.27 per unit for the first shipment, and $57 for the second. He also said he paid $2,985.71 for the first purchase (55 units) and $83,000 (1000 units plus a shipment of Pantene shampoo) for the second.

The total purchase amount was $86,000. However, Mr Attia was only found to have deposited $83,000 into Mr Rai’s account but could not offer an explanation as to the discrepancy.

Hillmear was later found to have supplied just over 1200 units of Viagra to the major wholesaler, not 1055. Mr Attia in explanation stated for the first time that Hillmear had also purchased Viagra from IPS, but there was no record of Hillmear receiving Viagra from IPS in the period of time in question.

During the course of investigations conducted by both the TGA and Pfizer, Mr Attia was found to have provided false and misleading information into the distribution of the counterfeit drugs.

Investigators noted several inconsistencies between his statements and material evidence, including the amounts of money paid for the drugs, who they were paid to, the amounts supplied and when they were supplied.

Mr Attia claimed to have paid for the counterfeit Viagra into the accounts of two separate companies, which were both discovered to be non-existent entities.

The tribunal also heard Mr Attia initially concealed his dealings with Mr Rai in interviews with officials.

“There can be no argument that Mr Attia provided false or misleading information to the TGA throughout the course of its investigation,” said the tribunal in its decision.

“Our impression is that throughout this hearing, Mr Attia has been at pains to minimise his own and to maximise Mr Rai’s culpability in relation to the transaction.”

They found that Mr Attia “ought to have known that the supplied Viagra was not genuine”.

In addition, the tribunal heard from senior staff specialist at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, who explained that a paediatric patient with pulmonary hypertension would be placed at significant risk if inadvertently treated with counterfeit understrength sildenafil.

The tribunal ruled that Mr Attia’s conduct amounted to unsatisfactory professional conduct and, taking into account his misleading behaviour during the investigative process, cancelled his registration as a pharmacist.

Mr Attia is unable to apply for a review of the decision until December this year.

He was also ordered to pay the HCCC’s costs.

There was no suggestion the major licensed wholesaler, which had purchased the counterfeit Viagra from Hillmear and supplied the Children’s Hospital with it, had acted improperly in the matter, the tribunal concluded.

Meanwhile Mr Rai had earlier been convicted on two counts of supplying counterfeit drugs in local court, and was ordered to perform 350 hours of community service.

Image by Tim Reckmann

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